ILLUMINAE Authors Visit Northern Colorado (Part 1 of 2)

Illuminae, the first novel in a best-selling young adult series, could cause serious damage if you dropped it on your foot.

At 599 pages, it’s a spiritual successor to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Except in outer space.

Co-authors and friends Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff wrote their “space opera” about two feisty teenagers – Kady and Ezra – who are stuck on different spaceships after their planet is invaded. The heroes’ story unfolds in a series of reports, instant messages, photos, spaceship schematics, and other graphics that infuse the tome with authenticity. Illuminae has everything: suspense, thrills, drama, humor, romance, and, yes, zombies.

It’s awesome.

The authors appeared Oct. 27 at Old Town Library in Fort Collins, Colo. to promote the second book in the Illuminae Files series, Gemina, and shared the stage with fellow Young Adult authors Jessica Cluess, Kiersten White, and Arwen Elys Dayton. The event was cosponsored by Old Firehouse Books.

Amie Kaufman, Kiersten White, Jessica Cluess, Arwen Elys Dayton


“Amie had a dream we wrote a book together,” Jay said. “The book was in emails.” The two writers speculated why that would be, and eventually determined the main characters are on two different spaceships. “They’re trying to get back together the entire book.”

Amie and Jay researched space-related topics such as wormholes, and laughed when mentioning one reader who didn’t appreciate the artistic license they took: “We received a five-page angry letter from an astrophysicist.”

They just submitted Book 3 of the Illuminae Files series to their publisher. Jay enjoys working on multiple projects at once, and mentioned he was writing the sequel to Nevernight while on the airplane (he and Amie both live in Australia); he also started a novel he called “Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max: Fury Road with a bit of Blade Runner.”

The other authors on the panel discussed their most recent books.

Jessica’s novel A Shadow Bright and Burning tells the story of Henrietta, a young woman in Victorian England identified as the first female sorcerer in centuries. She’s called to help battle 50-foot monsters known as The Ancients. But is she really the girl in the prophecy?

“The basic idea is, If you’re not The One, are you still important?” Jessica said. She summarized the attitude toward women during this period in history as “Careful, don’t faint, here’s a chaise, have babies.”


Her idea began with an image. She’d been reading Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, whose characters are usually young and weak. But Nickleby is in his twenties and his worldview, she said, is “I’m great and if you mess with people I’ll beat you in the face.”

“I wondered how a girl would do the same against an opponent,” she said. “I had an image of her opening her hands and roasting him with fire. I got the era, magic, and her personality…all of these things from a single image.”

Kiersten, author of And I Darken, has a different approach. “I usually start with a question, something I want to explore, and then find a story. How do people justify atrocities in the name of their goals?”

Her novel features the tag line, “No one expects a princess to be brutal.” The protagonist and her gentle younger brother were wrenched from their homeland and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts. She know bring ruthless is the key to survival. And she’s planning her revenge.

In Seeker, Arwen tells the story of Quin, a girl who has been training her entire life to protect the weak and the wronged, but discovers her family intends for her to become an assassin instead. Beautiful Creatures co-author Kami Garcia praised the novel: “Secrets, danger, and romance meet in this unforgettable epic fantasy.”

Arwen is a married mother of three who cheerily admits “I’m still obsessed with being a teenager.” Crushes, problems, school – “all are turned up to 11,” she said, alluding to the famous Spinal Tap quote. “Why would you want to write about adults?”

Katherine Valdez isn’t obsessed with being a teenager and didn’t buy a Ravenclaw cardigan as a Christmas gift for herself. But she does look forward to reading these authors’ novels. (So far, she’s finished Illuminae, Gemina, and A Shadow Bright and Burning. All are fantastic.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I share the authors’ thoughts on making time for writing while raising families, and the importance of taking care of your health when you’re living a creative life.

Follow Katherine at Secrets of Best-Selling Authors,,  FacebookInstagramTwitterGoodreadsPinterestAmazon and Medium.

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